DISGRUNTLED taxi drivers fear they will be forced off the road and put out of business should controversial regulation and licensing changes go ahead.
Plans to impose an age limit on vehicles, introduce new driving tests and lift restrictions on the number of taxis operating in some areas have been put forward.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) said the changes were based on public feedback and designed to raise standards and improve the environment.
New licences would only be issued to vehicles aged under 12 months and licences would expire when vehicles reached 10 years old.
But taxi drivers – already struggling to cope with rising fuel prices and falling trade – believe the proposals could be the ‘final nail in the coffin’.
Mark Williams, joint director of Abbey Taxis, warned the changes could spell the end for many of his drivers.
He said: “We are lobbying against the council’s proposals. There is a solidarity within the trade among ourselves and rivals from directorship level.
“None of us want what the council are proposing. We are calling upon the council to take a sensible approach to the issue.
“Of course, our firms are mindful of the importance of safety and quality vehicles for passengers and we do our utmost to ensure that is the case at all times.
“The council also carry out regular vehicle safety and quality checks so the council already have some control over that.
“We are united as a trade that the council must make a sensible decision to ensure livelihoods are not detrimentally affected.”
Mr Williams, whose firm has about 150 drivers in Chester, said passengers could see an increase in fares and a drop in the number of taxis on the road.
He said: “There will be no option for increases in business running costs, resulting in increases for drivers and in turn substantially increased fares for passengers, costs would be passed on to the fare paying public.
“Drivers would be unlikely be able to meet raised costs and that would result in a loss of drivers.”
One private hire driver, who asked not to be named, believes the number of taxis could fall by as much as 50 per cent.
He said: “If the 12 month policy is agreed, then this would mean nothing less than livelihood suicide.
“Drivers are already facing all the odds to scrape a living under the current climate and to force further financial implications for us would hammer the final nail in the coffin.
“Many drivers will just not be able to meet the cost and will have no option to leave the trade.
“Some drivers are lucky to make between £4 or £5 per hour under the present climate.”
Council spokeswoman Shirley Wingfield said a three-month consultation with taxi drivers was now drawing to a close.
She said: “This has been supplemented with meetings with taxi and private hire drivers across the borough.
“All interested parties will also be given an opportunity to address the licensing committee.
“In the Chester zone new licences will only be granted to hackney carriage applicants who propose to licence a new vehicle.
“The consultation document proposes to introduce an entry and exit age policy for all licensed vehicles.
“The entry and exit date has yet to be determined but the consultation proposes no more than one year old on entry and exiting the system after reaching 10 years of age on comfort, reliability and environmental grounds.
“Drivers are also asked questions about colour of the vehicles, carrying permitted advertising and quantity restrictions on hackney vehicles in the Ellesmere Port and Neston zone.
“The outcome of the consultation will be considered by the licensing committee on April 16.”